By: Sydney Kovach
The Stonewall Uprising began in the early hours of June 28, 1969 when New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in Greenwich Village in New York City. The raid infuriated club-goers and neighborhood residents, as police mercilessly pulled employees and patrons out of the bar. This sparked six days of protests where violence between the police and protesters spread to the surrounding blocks. Inspiring activists across the country and around the globe, the Stonewall Uprising is the catalyst for the gay rights movement.
Because it was illegal to solicit same-sex relations at the time, LGBTQ individuals would frequent gay bars where they could express their sexuality without judgement. However, police raids in gay bars were not uncommon at the time. Until 1966 the New York State Liquor Authority penalized and closed establishments that served alcohol to known or suspected LGBTQ individuals, claiming that the gathering of homosexuals was “disorderly.” After 1966, it was still illegal to hold hands, kiss or dance with someone of the same sex, so police harassment continued in gay neighborhoods. However, many bars kept their doors open without liquor licenses – in part because they were owned by the Mafia.
Corrupt cops would often tip off the Mafia before they would raid a gay bar, giving management the time to hide alcohol sold without a liquor license and other illegal activities. But the police did not give the Stonewall Inn a warning in the early hours of June 28, 1969. Storming into the club, police officers came with warrants and arrested 13 people, including patrons and employees.
The police employed violence on the crowd, brutally trying to quiet their voices. Within a few minutes, a riot broke out with a group barricading themselves in the bar, which the mob tried to set on fire. The fire department was able to put out the physical fire, but the fire for change persisted.
This was the last straw. Rather than leaving, angry patrons and neighborhood residents stayed outside of the bar. Spearheading these efforts were two trans women Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, gay liberation activists and drag queens. The two were key organizers during the uprising, setting the stage and laying the groundwork for trans women to follow, in part by co-founding Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR). Johnson said:
"History isn't something you look back at and say it was inevitable, it happens because people make decisions that are sometimes very impulsive and of the moment, but those moments are cumulative realities."
The Stonewall uprising acted as a galvanizing force for LGBTQ political activism, leading to the establishment of numerous gay rights organizations, including the Gay Liberation Front, Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD (formerly Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), and PFLAG (formerly Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).
As we celebrate the progress our country has made with LGBTQ rights during this Pride Month, this history is important as it paints a picture of how our world came to be.
Stonewall was a riot and this history is vital as we are still fighting for equal rights.